Tangerine Falls (West Fork Cold Springs Falls)

Los Padres National Forest / Santa Barbara, California, USA

About Tangerine Falls (West Fork Cold Springs Falls)


Hiking Distance: 2-3 miles round trip; dropoff exposure and rough scrambling involved
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2009-02-14
Date last visited: 2017-04-02

Waterfall Latitude: 34.47036
Waterfall Longitude: -119.65908

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Locally known as Tangerine Falls (but also known as West Fork Cold Springs Falls), this “Santa Barbara locals only” waterfall required quite a bit of an adventure for us to reach.

The hike was not really that well signposted (at least for the waterfall) and we had to be willing to do some pretty rough scrambling, especially towards the end of the hike where the scrambling was nearly vertical.

Tangerine_Falls_065_02142009 - Tangerine Falls with a hanglider in the sky
Tangerine Falls with a hanglider in the sky

The falls itself was reported to have a main drop of somewhere around 100ft with plenty of disjoint smaller cascades to bring its cumulative drop to a figure that might be more like 150ft or more.

It also featured a commanding ocean view in the direction of Santa Barbara.

Indeed, when you take all these things together, I’d have to say this was one of the more memorable hikes that Julie and I have done together.

Timing Tangerine Falls

Tangerine Falls seemed to have a rather short-lived flow depending on how much rain had preceded a visit.

Tangerine_Falls_17_056_04022017 - Context of the Tangerine Falls and a lower drop as seen from a lower lookout spot in April 2017
Context of the Tangerine Falls and a lower drop as seen from a lower lookout spot in April 2017

In our case, our first visit to the Tangerine Falls was timed for February in 2009.

Meanwhile, my second visit occured in April 2017, which was about 1.5 months after the last of the saturation rains that had put a dent in the multi-year drought that had hit much of Southern California that year.

In both instances, I’d say the flow was such that if you go another month or two without rain, then the falls would slow to a trickle or go dry altogether.

Speaking of the hike, given how non-trivial it was towards the end (which we’ll get to shortly), you might want to rethink doing this hike/scramble if it had been raining or threatening to rain.

Tangerine_Falls_17_080_04022017 - Tangerine Falls involved some very steep and rough scrambling at the end, which may make for very dangerous conditions if it has been wet
Tangerine Falls involved some very steep and rough scrambling at the end, which may make for very dangerous conditions if it has been wet

That’s because there were plenty of difficult spots requiring clinging to and climbing onto rocks that can easily be slippery when wet.

Some of the gullies we had to traverse or ascend could easily be muddy or flooded.

And let’s not forget trying to minimize skin contact with the ubiquitous poison oak, which could be an issue near the creeks where they tended to be more abundant.

Hiking to Tangerine Falls

Ann Marie Brown said this the hike to Tangerine Falls was 2 miles round trip.

Tangerine_Falls_019_02142009 - Julie negotiating some of the narrow and slippery parts of the hike and scramble up to the Tangerine Falls
Julie negotiating some of the narrow and slippery parts of the hike and scramble up to the Tangerine Falls

However, Julie and I swore it seemed quite a bit longer than that (more like 3 miles or so).

After all, we spent about 2.5 hours doing this excursion (though this included the picture-taking).

I took a similar amount of time on my second visit when I solo’ed this hike.

Thus, in spite of the reported trail length, given all the obstacles encountered, such statistics can be deceiving.

Tangerine_Falls_17_063_04022017 - Looking out from the foot of Tangerine Falls towards the Pacific Ocean downstream from West Fork Cold Springs Canyon
Looking out from the foot of Tangerine Falls towards the Pacific Ocean downstream from West Fork Cold Springs Canyon

So given all these factors, I decided to bump up the difficulty rating of this waterfalling excursion given the hazards present and the exertion required.

I certainly would not recommend bringing children on the hike unless they’re pretty experienced hikers or have no fear of heights.

The Tangerine Falls Trail Description – from trail to scramble

From the East Mountain Road at the trailhead (see directions below), we had to make sure that we took the correct trail.

After all, there were two trailheads as well as an additional one on the other side of the concrete ford.

Tangerine_Falls_090_02142009 - Looking back at the trailhead leading us up to Tangerine Falls, which rose quickly from the East Mountain Road and also had some trash cans set up by trail signage
Looking back at the trailhead leading us up to Tangerine Falls, which rose quickly from the East Mountain Road and also had some trash cans set up by trail signage

We made sure to take the trail for West Fork Cold Springs, which was the one to the left of the East Fork Cold Springs Trail.

That latter trail was the one that ascended steeply and veered to the right away from Cold Springs Creek.

The correct trail had a couple of trash cans near its trailhead, which helped us discern it from the rest.

Within a few minutes into the hike, there were some false trails leading to crossings of Cold Springs Creek.

Tangerine_Falls_17_012_04022017 - Context of the West Fork Cold Springs junction, which deviated from the main trail and crossed the creek between this sign and bench
Context of the West Fork Cold Springs junction, which deviated from the main trail and crossed the creek between this sign and bench

It turned out that the correct trail junction and creek crossing for the West Fork Cold Springs Trail was another quarter-mile further on.

At this junction, there were obvious signposts for West Fork Cold Springs Trail as well as a bench or two.

Beyond the creek crossing, the trail then resumed on the West Fork Cold Springs Trail going uphill.

The trail pretty much followed water pipes, which we guessed were likely for water diversion.

Tangerine_Falls_010_02142009 - Shortly after crossing the creek, the Tangerine Falls hike followed along some water pipes as it climbed high above the canyon containing West Fork Cold Springs Creek
Shortly after crossing the creek, the Tangerine Falls hike followed along some water pipes as it climbed high above the canyon containing West Fork Cold Springs Creek

Anyways, these water pipes wound up being kind of trail markers for us, especially in places where there were trail junctions and we weren’t quite sure which way to go.

So we suspected that it was tapping off the same stream that was responsible for Tangerine Falls (i.e. West Fork Cold Springs).

Speaking of which, during this uphill stretch of trail following water pipes, we managed to spot Tangerine Falls high up on the mountains ahead of us.

That kind of gave us some sense that we were at least going the right way and that it was within reach.

Tangerine_Falls_17_027_04022017 - On my most recent visit to Tangerine Falls in 2017, I noticed this pole at a trail junction where I went right to descend towards a dry creek with embankment obstacle. This pole wasn't there on our first visit back in 2009
On my most recent visit to Tangerine Falls in 2017, I noticed this pole at a trail junction where I went right to descend towards a dry creek with embankment obstacle. This pole wasn’t there on our first visit back in 2009

Somewhere near the middle of the hike, we encountered an unsigned fork with the path on the right descending to a dry creek bed.

We took that right fork and then we had to go either go through or around an eroded embankment.

Beyond this obstacle (which might not be there by the time you do this hike), we regained the trail while it continued to follow more water pipes.

The Tangerine Falls Trail Description – scrambling alongside West Fork Cold Springs Creek

At roughly a half-mile beyond the creek crossing and embankment obstacle, we then encountered a trail junction with a wooden pole in between the two forking trails.

Tangerine_Falls_020_02142009 - Julie scrambling as the Tangerine Falls trail disappeared into a scramble
Julie scrambling as the Tangerine Falls trail disappeared into a scramble

I kept right to descend right down to a dry creek, where the trail then continued to follow the West Fork Cold Springs Creek.

There continued to be water pipes on the trail, and I used it to lead me further upstream alongside West Fork Cold Springs Creek.

In one junction, the trail deviated from the water pipes and climbed sharply up a series of switchbacks.

I learned the hard way that to stay on the correct trail, I had to stay with the water pipes alongside the creek.

Tangerine_Falls_17_039_04022017 - During the stream scramble along West Fork Cold Springs Creek, I had to cross the creek a few times while encountering water pipes on the way up to Tangerine Falls
During the stream scramble along West Fork Cold Springs Creek, I had to cross the creek a few times while encountering water pipes on the way up to Tangerine Falls

The other trail climbed steeply well above the West Fork Cold Springs Creek and veered towards a different canyon.

It wouldn’t take long before the trail then crossed West Fork Cold Springs Creek right before an attractive cascade.

Continuing to follow the water pipes, I then encountered a steep, root-exposed climb that was non-technical, but it required the use of my hands.

Indeed, I needed to be careful and choose my route wisely given its steepness.

Tangerine_Falls_031_02142009 - Julie ascending a particularly slippery rock wall as the scramble up to Tangerine Falls became increasingly steeper and rougher
Julie ascending a particularly slippery rock wall as the scramble up to Tangerine Falls became increasingly steeper and rougher

After the last (third I believe) stream crossing, the water pipes started to disappear and eventually the trail seemed to have disappeared on us as we were faced with a rock ledge.

With Tangerine Falls visible through the foliage above us, we knew that the only way to finish the hike was to press forward and scramble onto the rock ledge.

After rounding a bend, the ledge dropped off towards the creek, where I then tip-toed alongside the creek before reaching a gully and rock wall that I had to climb to get past.

Indeed, this scramble marked the beginning of the real serious part of our “adventure”.

The Tangerine Falls Trail Description – scrambling up to the base of the waterfall

Tangerine_Falls_035_02142009 - Looking down at Julie making the steep scramble to get closer to the base of Tangerine Falls
Looking down at Julie making the steep scramble to get closer to the base of Tangerine Falls

As we continued onwards, we had to climb higher and steeper as the trail pretty much degenerated into a straight up rock scramble.

Along the way, there were more intermediate tiers of Tangerine Falls.

However, we probably spent more time concentrating on the climb before us given the exposure to dropoff hazards that were present.

When we climbed high enough on the scramble, it turned out that there were a couple of spots to view Tangerine Falls.

Tangerine_Falls_057_02142009 - Broad contextual view of Tangerine Falls from the first 'lookout spot' part way up the scramble to the base of the waterfall's main drop
Broad contextual view of Tangerine Falls from the first ‘lookout spot’ part way up the scramble to the base of the waterfall’s main drop

The first spot we stopped at was below the main waterfall itself near some lower cascades.

We had to deviate from the “trail” and descend a steep eroded gully to get down to the creek level just in front of an intermediate cascade immediately below the main Tangerine Falls.

From down here, we were able to look up just past a tree (threatening to obstruct the view) at the falls.

On our first visit here, we managed to look up at the falls against the deep blue morning sky while hangliders were hovering right above the falls!

Tangerine_Falls_17_074_04022017 - Looking up at the very steep boulder scramble to get even higher towards the foot of the main drop of Tangerine Falls
Looking up at the very steep boulder scramble to get even higher towards the foot of the main drop of Tangerine Falls

On my second visit here, I showed up a few hours earlier than our first visit, and it turned out that morning light wasn’t the best for Tangerine Falls.

That’s because I pretty much had to look against the sun to look at the main drop of the falls.

Given these observations, I’d say late morning through to mid-afternoon would be the best times to visit the falls seeing how the sun would be behind me instead of in front of me.

The second spot we stopped at was further up the “trail” as it deviated and followed a precarious ledge right at the bottom of the main waterfall.

Tangerine_Falls_17_060_04022017 - Looking up at the main drop of Tangerine Falls from the 'second lookout spot' perched precariously on a narrow ledge
Looking up at the main drop of Tangerine Falls from the ‘second lookout spot’ perched precariously on a narrow ledge

At first, we actually weren’t aware of this other spot until we saw a group of locals continue climbing further up the steep trail.

So by the time we made it to the trail’s end, it got pretty crowded at the narrow ledge fronting the main waterfall (as there was very limited space here).

On the second visit here, I was alone at this spot, but I was also pretty much looking right against the morning sun.

Nonetheless, from this vantage point, we could see the falls’ profile from very close up while also getting a commanding ocean view looking downstream.

Tangerine_Falls_17_075_04022017 - On the very steep descent from Tangerine Falls after having my fill of the waterfall
On the very steep descent from Tangerine Falls after having my fill of the waterfall

I’d have to say this was one of the more memorable hikes that Julie and I have done together, and it was probably because of this view along with the waterfall itself as well as the difficult scrambling towards the end.

Apparently, we weren’t alone in our thinking because when we returned to the trailhead, we must’ve counted at least a half-dozen hiking groups headed the other way.

So I have to believe Tangerine Falls is a pretty popular spot despite how rough the trail can get.

The same observation could be said of my second visit to the falls when I must have passed by at least a dozen more hiking parties going towards the falls as I was leaving.

Authorities

Tangerine Falls resides in the Los Padres National Forest near Montecito in Santa Barbara County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Tangerine_Falls_17_001_04022017 - Walking along East Mountain Drive towards the West Fork Cold Springs Trailhead. This photo and the next several photos were taken during my visit in April 2017
Tangerine_Falls_17_003_04022017 - Looking right at a pair of trailheads.  The one on the right was for East Fork Cold Springs Trail while the one on the left was for West Fork Cold Springs Trail.  We took the one on the left
Tangerine_Falls_17_006_04022017 - Along the first quarter-mile of the hike, we encountered at least a couple of false trails leading prematurely to Cold Springs Creek
Tangerine_Falls_17_007_04022017 - It was also possible to hike from a different trailhead along the West Fork Cold Springs Creek, which I noticed with this sign and trail
Tangerine_Falls_17_008_04022017 - Looking back at a hairpin turn on East Mountain Drive from the alternate access to the West Fork Cold Springs Trail
Tangerine_Falls_17_009_04022017 - During my April 2017 visit to Tangerine Falls, I actually followed along this alternate trail to remain along the West Fork Cold Springs Trail
Tangerine_Falls_17_010_04022017 - Looking across one of the possible crossings of West Fork Cold Springs Creek between the many accesses to reach the West Fork Cold Springs Trail
Tangerine_Falls_17_013_04022017 - A nice minor cascade on Cold Springs Creek right at the signed creek crossing
Tangerine_Falls_17_014_04022017 - Following the water pipes as the West Fork Cold Springs Trail continued ascending
Tangerine_Falls_17_015_04022017 - Continuing along the West Fork Cold Springs Trail en route to the Tangerine Falls, which was fairly tame in this part of the hike as it was a mixed bag between following water pipes or just following the trail
Tangerine_Falls_17_018_04022017 - The West Fork Cold Springs Trail was considerably narrower and more uphill than it was earlier on before crossing the West Fork Cold Springs Creek
Tangerine_Falls_17_021_04022017 - Continuing the ascent along the West Fork Cold Springs Trail, which still followed these water pipes en route to Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_17_026_04022017 - Distant view of the hard-to-see top part of the Tangerine Falls as seen from the West Fork Cold Springs Trail
Tangerine_Falls_17_030_04022017 - After keeping right at a trail junction with a pole by it (which wasn't there on my first visit in 2009), I eventually got to a part where I had to follow a faint trail alongside this stream
Tangerine_Falls_17_032_04022017 - When in doubt, there were these water pipes to help lead the way closer to Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_17_034_04022017 - At one point, I must have lost the streamside trail to Tangerine Falls because I found myself steeply ascending a mountainside and wound up with this view back towards the West Fork Cold Springs Canyon
Tangerine_Falls_17_036_04022017 - When I regained the trail to Tangerine Falls, I encountered these water pipes again
Tangerine_Falls_17_042_04022017 - After a crossing of West Fork Cold Springs Creek, I then ascended another somewhat rough and rooted trail en route to the Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_17_045_04022017 - As I continued on my pursuit of the Tangerine Falls, I had to negotiate these deadfall obstacles
Tangerine_Falls_17_046_04022017 - This bouldery cascade was near where the trail started to disappear and the stream scrambling began in earnest en route to Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_17_049_04022017 - Besides this cascade, I had to scramble up the rock wall to the left of it to continue up to Tangerine Falls, which was a bit dicey and deceptively slippery
Tangerine_Falls_17_050_04022017 - Beyond the dicey ledge above a cascade on West Fork Cold Springs Creek, I then had to ascend more boulder obstacles as the scramble to Tangerine Falls became steeper and rougher
Tangerine_Falls_17_051_04022017 - Noticing one of the intermediate cascades on West Fork Cold Springs Creek en route to the foot of Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_17_053_04022017 - Looking down at other hikers who had their fill of the Tangerine Falls and were making their way back down during my April 2017 visit
Tangerine_Falls_17_054_04022017 - Looking up at the Tangerine Falls from one of the intermediate lookout spots that I called the 'first lookout spot'
Tangerine_Falls_17_055_04022017 - More focused look up at the Tangerine Falls from that 'first lookout spot'
Tangerine_Falls_17_067_04022017 - Looking out towards the Pacific Ocean from the foot of the Tangerine Falls during my April 2017 visit
Tangerine_Falls_17_069_04022017 - I noticed one guy doing some pretty daring scrambling around West Fork Cold Springs Creek as he went downstream from the Tangerine Falls during my April 2017 visit
Tangerine_Falls_17_071_04022017 - After having my fill of the Tangerine Falls during my April 2017 visit, I then had to scramble back down, where I noticed more people were making their ascent
Tangerine_Falls_17_092_04022017 - Looking downstream along the West Fork Cold Springs Creek as I was making my return hike from Tangerine Falls in April 2017
Tangerine_Falls_17_095_04022017 - Making it back to the West Fork Cold Springs Trailhead, where there were the familiar signs and trash cans as well as parked cars alongside East Mountain Drive, which ended my Tangerine Falls experience in April 2017
Tangerine_Falls_003_02142009 - Julie started on the hike to Tangerine Falls, which passed by this blue recycling bin. This photo and the rest of the photos in this photo gallery were taken from our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_004_02142009 - Julie heading to the left at this signed trail fork, which had signage and a bench to give us the confidence that we were going the correct way to Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_001_jx_02142009 - This was what the rusted sign said where we considered crossing West Fork Cold Springs Creek during our hike to Tangerine Falls in February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_005_02142009 - Julie about to cross West Fork Cold Springs Creek to continue to hike up to Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_006_02142009 - Looking back towards the West Fork Cold Springs Trail, which was considerably narrower after having crossed West Fork Cold Springs Creek
Tangerine_Falls_008_02142009 - As the West Fork Cold Springs Trail was climbing, we got this nice view looking towards the Pacific Ocean
Tangerine_Falls_012_02142009 - Context of Julie continuing to climb on the narrow West Fork Cold Springs Trail as it was well above the canyon floor at this point
Tangerine_Falls_013_02142009 - Distant view of the hard-to-see top part of the Tangerine Falls from the West Fork Cold Springs Trail during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_014_02142009 - Somebody didn't seem too happy with this land being protected as evident with this marked up sign during our February 2009 hike to Tangerine Falls
Tangerine_Falls_015_02142009 - Context of the marked up sign and the West Fork Cold Springs Trail leading us closer to the Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 hike
Tangerine_Falls_016_02142009 - Julie keeping right at this unsigned trail junction, which left the main trail and descended towards a creekbed. This photo was taken during our February 2009 hike, but when I came back in April 2017, I noticed that there was a pole (maybe a vandalized sign) that was at this junction
Tangerine_Falls_017_02142009 - Leaves of three, leave them be. We saw quite a few of these during our hike and scramble to Tangerine Falls as the hike became progressively tougher
Tangerine_Falls_018_02142009 - Julie continuing to follow along water pipes on the ascending trail towards Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_022_02142009 - By this point, the Tangerine Falls Trail seemed to have disappeared, but the graffiti ironically helped assure us that we were going the right way. This was during our February 2009 visit so over the years, the graffiti may come and go
Tangerine_Falls_024_02142009 - Looking upstream towards some intermediate cascade that wasn't quite in shadow during our Tangerine Falls hike in February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_026_02142009 - Julie climbing up a pretty steep part of the scramble leading us towards Tangerine Falls on our February 2009 hike
Tangerine_Falls_029_02142009 - Julie doing some rock scrambling. This was the part of the hike where the trail disappeared and we now pretty much had to scramble our way up to Tangerine Falls in February 2009
Tangerine_Falls_032_02142009 - One of the intermediate cascades that we saw during the steep scramble up to the foot of Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_036_02142009 - Looking up at Tangerine Falls and a lower intermediate cascade together from the 'first lookout spot' during our visit in February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_039_02142009 - Direct look up at the Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_047_02142009 - Our semi-long-exposed shot at the Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_003_jx_02142009 - Closer look at part of the Tangerine Falls during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_078_02142009 - As we turned around from the foot of Tangerine Falls, this was the view towards the Pacific Ocean from our lofty vantage point during our February 2009 visit
Tangerine_Falls_083_02142009 - Closer look at Tangerine Falls from the very end of the scramble (or at least as far as we were willing to go during our visit in February 2009)
Tangerine_Falls_086_02142009 - Crossing the creek by the graffiti on the way back from Tangerine Falls after having our fill of it in February 2009

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There are several ways to arrive at the Tangerine Falls Trailhead, but we’ll describe what we think would be the most straightforward route.

So assuming we were driving east of downtown Santa Barbara along the US101 Freeway, we’d exit at Olive Mill Road (exit 94A).

Tangerine_Falls_091_02142009 - The parking situation along East Mountain Road before we even got started on our hike up to the Tangerine Falls
The parking situation along East Mountain Road before we even got started on our hike up to the Tangerine Falls

Then, we’d turn left at the second stop sign, where we’d then drive north on Olive Mill Rd for a little over a half-mile before it continued going north on Hot Springs Rd.

After another 1.3 miles on Hot Springs Rd, we’d then turn left onto East Mountain Drive and follow this road for a little over a mile to the trailheads for the various forks of Cold Springs Creek.

Overall, this drive would take about 15 minutes.

One thing I do need to mention is that on our first visit here, we saw broken glass on the ground near where we pulled in to park.

Tangerine_Falls_001_02142009 - Looking across some of the pullouts near the trailhead for the West Fork Cold Springs Trail
Looking across some of the pullouts near the trailhead for the West Fork Cold Springs Trail

That made us very wary about leaving anything of value in the car as this area has apparently had a history of break-ins.

Finally for some geographical context, Santa Barbara was 100 miles (over 2 hours drive with moderate traffic) from downtown Los Angeles. Without traffic, this drive could easily be accomplished in about 90 minutes.

Checking out the falls from near its base while also examining the steep scrambling path and the downstream canyon


Deliberate downstream to upstream sweep from the turnaround point of the hike while also trying to shield out the morning sun


Diagonal sweep from smaller lower cascade to the main falls from one of the lower lookouts as seen back in 2009

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Tagged with: los padres national forest, santa barbara, southern california, california, waterfall, west fork cold springs, cold springs, locals, hike



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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